Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Chen Dong, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephanie S. Watowich, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michelle Barton, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Shao-Cong Sun, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Xin-Hua Feng, Ph.D.


CD4+ T helper (Th) lymphocytes are vital for integrating immune responses by orchestrating the function of other immune cell types. Naïve Th cells can differentiate into different effector subsets that are characterized by their cytokine profile and immune regulatory functions. These subsets include Th1, Th2, Th17, natural and inducible regulatory T cells (nTreg and iTreg respectively), among others. We focused our investigation on two Th lineages, Th17 and regulatory T cells, with opposing functions in the immune system. These subsets have been suggested to be reciprocally regulated since they both require TGF-b for their development. We investigated the role of the Treg-associated master transcription factor Foxp3, and found that Foxp3 inhibits Th17 cell generation by preventing the transcriptional activity of the two main Th17-specific transcription factors, nuclear orphan receptors RORa and RORgt. At the molecular level, we identified two different functional domains in Foxp3 required for such inhibition: the LQALL sequence in exon 2 and the TIP60/HDAC7 binding domain. These domains could be crucial to either prevent the association of the nuclear receptors to coactivators or to recruit histone deacetylases to RORa- or RORgt-target genes. Since TGF-b is a common cytokine required for the commitment towards both Th lineages, we determined the role of the TGF-b-dependent signaling pathway in the generation of each subset. By using mice with deficiencies in signaling molecules downstream of TGF-b, we found that while Smad2, Smad3 and Smad4 are required for the generation of iTreg cells, only Smad2 is indispensable for the induction of IL-17-producing cells, suggesting that TGF-b induces these T helper lineages through differential signaling pathways. Thus, our findings describe novel transcriptional regulatory mechanisms that control the generation of two T helper lineages with opposing functions. These findings could provide novel therapeutic targets to treat diseases where the balance of these T cells is dysregulated, such as in autoimmunity, chronic infectious diseases and cancer.


immunology, T helper, inflammation, autoimmunity

Included in

Immunity Commons